1) Time for Guardiola to keep this easy
Pep Guardiola may be a tactical wizard, but as Spinal Tap’s guitarist once claimed, “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.” Manchester City’s boss has proved the same with his propensity to overcomply in major matches. Few know this better than Jürgen Klopp, whose Liverpool squad has more than once been thankful recipients of Guardiola’s needlessly complex one-off game plans. On Sunday, there is no call for such ambiguity. City go to Anfield having won 13 games in a row in all tournaments, while their opponents have won three of their last 10 games, drawn two at home and kept a clean sheet this year. The Anfield crowd, which has fueled early blitzkriegs against City in recent years, will be missing. Guardiola’s biggest challenge could be psychological rather than tactical: to ensure that his players take to the pitch with the same independence in the last two months. Or to put it simply, to stop interfering with a winning recipe.
2) Maitland-Niles has the potential to reshape his future.
Signing Ainsley Maitland-Niles on loan was a coup for West Brom, provided that Leicester and Southampton were among the other clubs. The Graduate of the Arsenal Academy does not require an invitation to set it up on Sunday, and the expectation is that the rewards would be double-edged. Survival seems like a huge demand for Sam Allardyce’s side, which is 10 points away from survival, but the inclusion of an English international who was instrumental in winning the FA Cup in his parent club can do no harm to them. It’s a perfect thing for Maitland-Niles, too. At 23, he has the potential to become a leader on the top-flight side of the field where he’s always favoured. Versatility is a blessing in football, but in some situations it may lead to a career passing by the player; the scene is set for Maitland-Niles to mold his own potential while helping West Brom to figure out what will be among the greatest escapes.
3) In West Ham, Lingard has the qualities to shine.
Jesse Lingard is a funny soccer player. Very few players can do what they do when they’re at the top of their game, yet they’re failing to reach the level on a daily basis… but they’re decent enough to find it on the biggest stages. One thing we know is that Lingard isn’t afraid, so it wasn’t shocking to see him react to the challenge of his West Ham debut with a good debut double. While he has a reputation for stolidity, the truth is more complex. The West Ham boss wants his squad to be lightweight, hard-working and difficult to beat, but he still loves the flair even though he’s not quite sure how to make that happen. Well, that’s Lingard’s department now, and since West Ham is in fine shape but needs a bit more creativity, unpredictability and pace, the situation is ideal for him to thrive.
4) Pereira could get Foxes to finish the line
Leicester may be third in the table, but their position is misleading: they’re definitely better off than at least one of the teams above them. Although none of the division’s heavyweights can convincingly claim to have surpassed the amount of their parts this season, Brendan Rodgers’ side is doing just that – and the parts themselves are about to change, too. The rampant right-back Ricardo Pereira, their best performer over the previous two seasons, made his first league appearance of the campaign on Wednesday and was denied a goal by his offside teammate. Talisman Wilfred Ndidi and Jamie Vardy may be back in the fight against the Wolves on Sunday, though Harvey Barnes appears to be improving with each game and with the goals to prove it. The last season of the Foxes was marked by a sharp downturn at halfway point. There’s every chance they might get stronger this time around.
5) Hudson-Odoi key to restore Chelsea’s Tuchel
In spite of a dreary draw against Wolves, Thomas Tuchel made a terrific start to his life in Chelsea. The boldness of his selection for this game has revealed a man with strong ideas on how he wants his squad to play and how he wants to play in it, but the time of maturity has already begun. It seems doubtful that he will omit Mason Mount again, though Timo Werner’s best is better than Tammy Abraham or Olivier Giroud’s. But Tuchel’s most revealing contribution change was to incorporate Callum Hudson-Odoi, who brought power, directness, and variety to a squad that seemed like a clueless forward. And on top of that, his wide-ranging stationing would allow Hakim Ziyech – Chelsea’s key playmaker – to step into the centre, where he will necessarily enjoy more possession and more power. Sheffield United has improved in recent weeks, but they’re in for another tough night.
6) Martinez tells the Arsenal what they are behind
You wouldn’t have laughed out of town for saying that Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martínez was the best goalie in the Premier League this season. Bernd Leno was in good shape himself until he was defeated by Wolves on Tuesday, when he was sent off for a handball outside the field. It was an uncharacteristic bloodshed for the First Choice Keeper of Arsenal, and now Mikel Arteta wants to call a capable deputy. That’s just what Martinez proved to be with Arsenal at the back of last season, but on Saturday the option would be between Mat Ryan and Alex Runarsson. Ryan could be out of time and hardly practiced after joining the Brighton loan, though Runarsson is already in the Premier League following a terrible night in the Carabao Cup against Manchester City. Arteta will be left to hope that his outfield stars, who were soaring when the game turned to Molineux, would be able to keep the pressure off the last unfamiliar line of defense.
7) Mateta must crack the curse of the Selhurst strikers
What’s the Crystal Palace shirt doing to the strikers? Just three times in the club’s 11 Premier League seasons has the Palace Core hit double digits. Kevin Phillips, Stephen Dobbie, Yaya Sanogo, Patrick Bamford, Kevin Doyle, Alexander Sørloth and Loïc Rémy have all come and gone without a red and blue top-flight score. Christian Benteke has three league goals this season, Jordan Ayew has one, and Michy Batshuayi has scored more goals for Belgium than Palace this season. All this does not augur well for Jean-Philippe Mateta, a 23-year-old loanee from Mainz, but it also means that he should be placed right on the foot. He’s already got 10 goals in his name this season – more than all of his new teammates. Plus, let’s face it, he can’t do any worse than that.
8) Hasenhüttl needs to lift the saints again.
Losing 9-0 once is unfortunate; losing 9-0 twice is… you get a picture, but it seems tough that Southampton and Ralph Hasenhüttl have suffered such a grisly fate twice in a little over 15 months, considering the normal quality of their work. The last time this happened, they had to wait patiently to get back on track, lose their next two league games before impressing in a draw at Arsenal and turning the ship around. They host Newcastle on this occasion and it is not unreasonable to say that the Magpies have been the best foe for teams in search of an immediate pick-me-up in recent years. The nagging problem for the Saints is that they have already lost three in a row, with wounds – and now two suspensions – chewing wildly before we can understand the consequences of hiding. Trust needs to be recovered rapidly if it is not to fall into the lower mid-table; Hasenhüttl has cautioned that bringing them to new heights a second time could indeed be his greatest achievement.
9) Shaw has demonstrated signs of change under Solskjær
Luke Shaw comes across as a player who, due to the purity of his talent, has entered the Premier League, rather than the strength of his concentration – the exasperation of his previous managers. But Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s patient, nurturing style has given him steady excellence, and is also altering the dynamics of his squad. Previously, the boss had failed to match wide-ranging attackers who wished to come in with full-backs providing no offensive threat, leaving his field – still busy defending the defense iffy – to carry the full imaginative load. But thanks to Shaw’s progress and Aaron Wan-full-back Bissaka’s fellow, United is beginning to press forward as a team, using the full breadth of the pitch. They’re going to need this dimension against the Paddy squad booming after a fine mid-week victory. If United struggles to succeed and Manchester City beats Liverpool, their “title challenge” will be over just as soon as it begins.
10) Potter raises Seagulls by adhering to the ideals
Where did the magnificent wins of Brighton come from over Mossad and Liverpool? This particular scribe may not be well positioned to react after despairing of his clean yet unproductive attempts against Fulham nine days earlier. For most of the season, Brighton has struggled to eliminate rivals, but their success standards between the boxes have remained surprisingly constant. That owes a lot to Graham Potter’s coaching, whose side is well drilled and empowered to act seamlessly in an attack, so it’s heartening to see his practice bear fruit. Potter maintained his nerve and refused to break from the way he felt Brighton was supposed to work, and the club stuck with him. In that way, there might be a connection with Sean Dyche, but you might not believe it if you watched their respective press conferences. Burnley will have offered themselves a significant cushion over the bottom three with a win; they’ll have an opportunity to check their opponent’s overconfidence, but this doesn’t seem like the tense six-pointer that was once slated.